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Roberto Capucci’s Warrior Fantasies

An exhibition in Italy reveals the connection between Roberto Capucci’s designs and Japanese armours.

It is common knowledge in the world of fashion that without Roberto Capucci there would be no Issey Miyake or Viktor & Rolf. Indeed Capucci’s choice of fabrics and materials, his constant research for inspirations outside of the fashion universe, his careful study of the relationship between dress and movement and his obsession for phantasmagorical colours that led him to use 27 shades of blue in the pleats of one single dress, turned over the decades into vital inspirations for many young designers.

Capucci always conceived his designs like architecturally perfect cocoons, designed to wrap up the body, give it a three-dimensional quality and protect it like armours. An interesting exhibition at the Caraglio Filatoio, near Cuneo, explores this aspect of Capucci’s work and makes a peculiar connection between his sculpted designs and samurai armours from the 16th to the 19th century.

Curated by Kirsten Aschengreen Piacenti, director of the Florence-based Stibbert Museum, and by Roberto Capucci, “Fantasie Guerriere” (Warrior Fantasies) features over forty dresses selected from various collections and ten armours, complete with helmets, war masks and tsubas, the decorated guards at the end of the grip of bladed Japanese weapons.
The idea of comparing Capucci’s designs and Japanese armours came from a simple consideration: though armours may look scary, fierce and aggressive, they also represent the perfect balance between elegance and functionality. Two elements contribute to turn Japanese armours into refined pieces of art: kinu (silk) and urushi (lacquer). Samurai armours were indeed made of various steel plates, covered in coloured or golden lacquer and kept together by polychrome or monochromatic strips of silk. Coating the steel in lacquer made the plates more resistant and waterproof, while silk guaranteed the wearer freedom of movement. The colours of the silk strips - those vivid crimsons, blues, yellows and greens - were associated with particular families and were carefully chosen by the Saihoshi, a craftsman who also had the function of designer.

A carefully studied relationship between colour and fabric characterises both Capucci and samurai armours: while women reveal the different nuances of his designs when they walk, the samurai’s movements allowed them to show the colours of the silk strips and identify in this way the family they belonged to. But there are also other elements that allow to compare samurai armours to Capucci’s fantasies: the butterflies and floral motifs on the top of the helmets were radically transformed by Capucci into huge ribbons or floral shapes while the decorations of the steel plates and the rich ornamentation of the tsubas were reinvented as refined embroideries.

There is also a sort of audio-tactile link between Capucci’s dresses and samurai armours: Italian fashion critic Anna Piaggi once taped the designer while he was working with his silk to prove his creations had an almost symphonic quality about them. In the same way, armours evoke the terrible sounds of battle clashes. “Fantasie Guerriere” dissects and analyses just one of Roberto Capucci’s sources of inspiration, but it also shows how the Italian designer has managed throughout the years to establish a sort of fantastic dialogue between his works and armour-making, one of the finest but also most terrifying forms of craftsmanship ever created by man.

”Fantasie Guerriere” is at the Filatoio, Via Giacomo Matteotti 40, Caraglio (Cuneo), Italy, until 6th January 2009.